A capacity crowd at the Betzenberg were on hand to cheer on the Red Devils of Kaiserslautern as they hosted Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the Bundesliga re-start Friday following the international break. Robin Dutt’s visiting Werkself club featured goals by former Kaiserslautern players Michael Ballack and Sidney Sam to disappoint the Fritz-Walter Stadion crowd, 2-0 and take home all three points.
Kaiserslautern came into the match holding the 12th spot in the Bundesliga table with 13 points riding a five game unbeaten streak (including their Pokal win over Eintracht Frankfurt on October 26) since headman Marco Kurz changed tactics by deciding to go with a lone striker, 6’4″ Club Brugge loanee Dorge Kouemaha, with Israeli international Itay Shechter used as a substitute despite leading the Red Devils in goals scored (3). Eighth place Bayer Leverkusen were 1-1-1 in their last three Bundesliga matches. Dutt was without the services of flu-stricken German international Andre Schurrle.
A scoreless first half saw both sides looking a bit out of sync after the international layoff. Neither Stuttgart keeper Bernd Leno or Kaiserslatern stopper Kevin Trapp was particularly troubled during the first 45 minutes. Michael Ballack tried several shots from distance, including a fifth minute attempt right at Trapp, to no avail, while Konstantinos Fortounis missed a good opportunity to put the Red Devils up when he headed over the Leverkusen goal in the 9th minute. Kaiserslautern looked the brighter side towards the end of the half, as Kouhemaha was passing by defender Manuel Friedrich as if the 32 year-old veteran was waiting on a bus.
Leverkusen’s Lars Bender got the 2nd half off to a nice start with a hard long-distance shot that Trapp knocked aside, but the ensuing corner kick by Michal Kadlec was poorly taken. Young Fortounis had a chance in the 51st minute from a high cross from Christian Tiffert, but his attempt at a volley flew sideways into never-never land. It took former Kaiserslautern man Michael Ballack to notch the game’s first goal. Ballack, who led his club with five shots taken during the match, unleashed a hard smash from distance that Trapp got his hands on and should have stopped. Unfortunately for the Red Devils, the ball went into the back of the net at the 53rd minute mark.
Trapp did redeem himself near the hour mark as he made a fine save on another Bender attempt, while Kouemaha looked to equalize moments later from the center of the box and Thanos Petsos forced a save on a ball from Tiffert. But it was another former Kaiserslautern man, Sidney Sam, who iced the match in the 70th minute. Taking a pass from Bender, Sam controlled the ball well and quickly launched a well-directed shot from his left foot past Trapp to double Leverkusen’s lead. It was the third goal of the season for Sam, who had been stuck in a scoring drought before meeting up with his old team Friday. Dutt’s men were able to ride out the last twenty minutes to hold on for the victory, with substitute Eren Derdiyok almost adding another goal.
Dutt did not take the match with Kaiserslautern lightly. Quoted on the Leverkusen website, Dutt proclaimed that “Games at the Betzenberg are always something special due to the particular circumstances: floodlights, a probable sell-out and an aggressive home side.” But Leverkusen, the second best Bundesliga road-team going into the match, left with all three points and rose to sixth place with a 6-3-4 mark. Moreover, the win will undoubtedly take some of the heat off of Dutt over the team’s performance this year after last season’s 2nd place finish and will be a confidence boost as the club looks ahead to their Champions League match with Chelsea Wednesday at the BayArena.
Dutt cannot overlook the continued contribution of young Lars Bender. The 22 year-old international covered more ground (13.44 km.) than any other player on the pitch Friday. Bender also led his club with 81 touches and completed 54 of 59 passes (91%).
For Marco Kurz and his Red Devils, the loss was obviously a disappointment but there were enough bright spots to maintain hope. The continued growth of Kouemaha as an offensive threat is certainly a positive, as Kouemaha took five shots and was able to get free often. Fortounis did not have an especially strong game but does display an upside as hopefully more game experience promotes his growth as an attacker. It was also good to see Adam Nemec back from injury to get his first minutes of the season.
Notes: American internationals Robbie Rogers and Kyle Beckermann, who have stayed in Europe to train with Kaiserslautern following friendlies with France and Slovenia, were Fritz-Walter Stadion cheering for the Red Devils Friday evening.
Lautern: Trapp – Dick, Amedick, Abel, Bugera – Kirch (Shechter 62′), Petsos (Nemec 76′) – Sahan (Sukuta-Pasu 76′), Tiffert, Fortounis – Kouemaha
Bayer: Leno – Schwaab, M. Friedrich, Toprak, Kadlec – L. Bender, Reinartz (Rolfes 77′) – Sam, Ballack, Castro (Oczipka 90′) – Kießling (Derdiyok 88′)
Goals: 0-1 Ballack (54′), 0-2 Sam (70′)